150 years ago, the two curates (that’s right, two!) at St. Michael’s, Swanmore had their licenses withdrawn by the Bishop (then of Winchester) preventing them from conducting any services there.
What was their dreadful offence?
Simply that during a service, there were lighted candles on the altar that were only there for ceremonial purposes; the Church Laws it was claimed forbad this practise, unless they were necessary for the priest to read the altar book.
Otherwise, it was illegal and described as “Popery”,
Ever since the Reformation it was supposed that this was what the Prayer Book stated and anything that imitated the Roman Catholic practises was suspect and condemned.
The battle between the growing number of “High Church” clergy was bitter, with the Bishops disciplining anyone or anything contravening what they thought was against the spirit of the Reformation.
They pointed to the rule in the first English Prayer Book, which said that “The robes of the minister and other practises were to remain as in the first year of Edward 6th’ reign” but records showed that in fact at that time, altar candles were sill in use, as indeed were the priestly vestments.
This dispute was eventually settled after the saintly Bishop of Lincoln (The Rt. Revd. Edward King) was hauled before the Archbishop Benison’s Consistory Court to defend his use of altar candles and vestments in his Episcopal chapel.
King was found “guilty” although Benison did accept the idea of altar candles, also the mixing of a little water with the Communion wine that had been another offence and from then on there were efforts to make these “Popish” practises both legal and acceptable to Anglican congregations. These differences continued right into the early years of my ministry.
Nowadays in churches, these are all commonplace, with the use of incense, vestments and ceremonies that were still suspect in a number of parishes, even into the 1960s. I was condemned as “Romish”, when I was sent by Bishop John Philips to raise the ecclesiastical temperature at St. John’s, Sandown in 1963 to balance the worship at Christchurch.
(I introduced vestments there at the end of 1963, but on the same Sunday, the church boiler finally died and the local Baptist minister told his congregation that “It was a judgement on the Vicar of St. John’s for introducing these Popish practises”!)
Unfortunately, some of this opposition can still be found in some parishes, but probably this is as much due to the fact that many churchgoers have no knowledge of what these ceremonies mean or why they exist.
Examining the history of these Candles, it stems from the earliest years of Christianity.
In Acts, 20, vv7-11, Luke describes an incident on a Saturday evening (remember, Sunday began at late eventide), when Paul preaches too long and a poor boy, Eutychus, overcome by the presence of so many lights, falls out of a window but is rescued unharmed.
After a meal, the Eucharist began for which many additional candles or oil lamps were brought in, reminiscent of Jesus’ claim to be “The light of the world”.
There is a translation of an ancient Hymn (Our hymn book 253, 3rd century or earlier):
“Hail, gladdening light of His pure glory poured, from the immortal Father, heavenly blessed, Holiest of holies, Jesus Christ our Lord”.
This was sung as the extra lights were brought into the room for the Eucharist.
Our lighted candles on the altar remind us of the abiding Presence of Jesus, when we meet to worship Him.
I ask this question because there are significant changes in the use of the word according to the 1662 Prayer Book and later revisions.
I notice it, for I have used the old style language most of my Ministry where it occurs twice in the Communion Services both in 1662 and the doubtful revision of 1928 (never approved by Parliament) and the new Common Worship services.
1662 talks about our offering in the Communion service as “Lively”, and again in the Intercessions “by their life and doctrine”, the clergy must set forth “thy true and lively Word” but later revisions talk about the true and living Word” .
Now how do you interpret these differences for they convey two entirely different attitudes to our Faith?
“Lively” suggests a different attitude to it than “Living”.
There is much difference between being a “Lively” Christian than simply jogging along as a “Living” Christian without a great deal of enthusiasm.
This difference in attitudes was underlined by a thought-provoking book written by Mark Gibbs and Ralph Morton, entitled “God’s Frozen People”.
Over 50 years ago (1965 to be precise) looking at the way in which the Church of England was going, with a fall-off in general church-going and candidates for the priesthood, these two men were so concerned that they, sat down and wrote this book.
Their object was to breathe life into the outward ministry of our Church, following on from the report on Evangelism (“Towards the Conversion of England”) which had been almost entirely neglected by the governing body, the Church Assembly.
Change in the Church was stagnant, although revised services were now in the market (reluctantly adopted under pressure by many of the Church both ordained and lay).
In addition, 20 years after the ending of the War it was clear that The Church’s finances were failing to keep pace with the cost of the Ministry, the numbers of which were falling.
This was simply because we couldn’t afford either to recruit or maintain them, putting the parochial Ministry under pressure. There was hesitancy in recruiting lest there was insufficient funds.
This had spawned all manner of ways in which it was suggested the pastoral Ministry could be maintained, with no less than 3 different Reports presented, but not implemented because they were considered too revolutionary.
Gibbs and Morton wrote this particular upsetting book because they recognised that unless the laity were brought into the whole scheme of things, the Church would wither and die.
Too long, congregations had sat back cosily in their seats, imagining that the ordained ministers should take on tasks that didn’t need an ordained person and some (like me) tried to do all manner of inessential tasks that the congregation could undertake; partly because that was how it had always been.
Some of us clergy imagined that if we didn’t stoke the boiler or some other un-priestly task, it was because either there were no suitable volunteers, or they thought it wouldn’t be done properly! Like Gilbert’s Poo Bah in the “Mikado”, as “Lord High Everything” clergyy wore themselves out unnecessarily.
Even if we don’t replace “Living” in our description, isn’t it time we considered how best we can become “un-frozen” or “Lively” Christians, or as Paul would have described it as “workers together with Christ"? Should we think about that?
“When did the Church of England lose the working classes?” The answer is that it has never had them in any great numbers since the Reformation and we need to ask “Why?”
It is true that from 1837 and the beginning of the Victorian era there was a tremendous revival, building churches, forming all manner of Societies and groups to ease the many problems associated with moving from a rural economy to an industrial one.
However many of the parish churches built in that period seem to have been appropriated by the growing middle class, with strict demarcation lines concerning who sat where (according to their social class).
In my Victorian church in Taunton (b.1842), the middle class trades-people occupied the nave, the boys of the public school of Kings College the gallery (also with comfortable pews), and the slum-dwellers and Work-house folk the hard back-less forms in the gallery.
True, The Church affected more people’s lives then than for many years previously, with various clubs and groups, especially Sunday Schools, to which the children were “sent” whilst the parents occupied themselves in more secular activities.
For many, the growing number of “High Churches” with colour, music and ceremonies, much of which was decried by the Bishops of the day and viewed with suspicion, attracted people who normally had no colour in their lives.
Churches like St. Michael’s, Swanmore, with its vestments, candles and even incense and plainsong chanting became an attraction to many ordinary families (the latter being comfortably used by all classes and types).
Many do not realise that it was customary in some parishes to have a “Mission Hall” to accommodate those who were not so welcome at the parish church. All Saints, Ryde had one in Prince Street, Ryde, and my own Taunton parish church was built to cope with the town’s numerous slum dwellers,
The sad truth is that we lost the ordinary folk through the Reformation, when so much that went on socially as well as spiritually was centred on the parish church, where everyone was involved and took part in so many of the religious occasions.
Processions were frequent with all the company joining in, often carrying candles, and people learned much of the Faith by the worship activities in which they were engaged.
In an age when few could read or write, the stained glass images, the statues of the saints (often related to trade or work activities) with the craft Guilds and the mystery of the worship itself, all made an impression on the working people who saw their church as their spiritual centre, coupled with the jolly supping of after-Mass Ale (brewed by the Churchwardens).
For the pre-Reformation churches, worship was not only solemn, but joyful participation of everyone. Consider now, if you perhaps advertise a service for families where there is to be a procession with candles to some particular place in the building, you will be surprised at who and how many will attend.
There is the story of the Bishop, taking part in a High Church Mass enquired “Why do the boys hold the candles?” “Simply” replied the priest “Because the candles hold the boys”.
Worship is not something done on our behalf by a select few by others; where possible it needs to be an occasion when everyone can feel they are contributing to the best of their ability, gendering a sense of “Joy”.
An old hymn bids us sing “Oh day of rest and gladness, Oh day of JOY and light”. Are our Sundays like that?
Perhaps we need to consider our worship and how we can create a greater sense of congregational participation?
Suggested reading: “The stripping of the altars” which traces the effect the Reformation had on English worship.
Having recently (March, 1949) been licensed as a Reader to the parish of All Saints’, Ryde, I was let loose on an unsuspecting Evensong congregation to preach my first sermon.
At that time, the 9.30 Sung Eucharist was the least well attended service on a Sunday, far eclipsed by what people called the “Proper Service” of Sung Morning Prayer, despite the 9.30 having been originally instituted in the late 1920s by the then Vicar, Hugh LeFleming, who was considered to be “Very High”.
As a result, a brash 23yr. old, I preached on the text “They all with one accord began to make excuse” and expounded why the people might consider they ought to attend the 9.30 service.
Primarily, because it was the only service specifically established by Jesus, whereas both Matins and Evensong were “man-made”, by the inspired Archbishop Cranmer (who incidentally in the Prayer Book established that his aim was to make the Eucharist the main service of the day). This was reaffirmed finally by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which assumed that Matins and Evensong would proceed and follow the Sunday Communion.
Incidentally, there are only three references to sermons at services, strangely, the Eucharist, the Wedding and Ordination services! No such provision at Matins and Evensong; but a sermon or homily at every Communion Service and to conform I have always preached a (short) sermon as prescribed!
In the post-Reformation chaos, the Communion Service was demoted, often only celebrated as little as four times per year and did not begin to occupy the place that Cranmer had intended until the mid-1800s with the Oxford Movement.
On Easter Day in 1837, there were only 8 communicants at St. Paul’s Cathedral apart from the Cathedral clergy and choir which signifies the low status of the Communion service in the Church of England at that time.
Yet, rightly understood, the Communion is not only from the Gospels, but it IS the Gospel, the “Good News”, for it enshrines all the great Christian verities.
It is a gathering of people who, by setting at its heart the Cross with its good news of our redemption, enables us to be “friends and children of God” and brothers and sisters “in Christ”; confirmed by our sharing this sacred meal of bread and wine, that by the power of the Holy Spirit becomes none other than life-giving Presence of Christ Himself.
St. John (chapter 6) is a discourse on the significance of the bread and wine and we need to remember that when he wrote this, he was quite old. The Lord’s Supper had been celebrated for some 50 years, enabling him to reflect on its full meaning and importance.
It is clear that the words of Jesus in that chapter were not accepted by all the disciples, so that some of them abandoned Him; yet, when it is presented to modern congregations who have received suitable instruction it can be an evangelistic force.
Even young children find it intelligible in its simplicity.
That is why in “Evangelism” we are bound to teach and enable people whom we encourage to join us, eventually to share in the Communion, the Christ-given service that “joins us to one another and to God”. To do otherwise would be to fail to offer them full participation in this Divine Society, whose earthly focus is the altar of the Lord.
Being now enabled legally to offer Communion to quite young children after basic instruction without Confirmation some striking impact is being made to accommodate complete families and good teaching material is being produced to assist to that end. Encouraging results have been reported for this approach which is worth thinking about and that therein is some hope for The Church’s future Mission.
St. Paul’s, Weston-super-Mare, the church where my Somerset family worship, considers that it is a poor attendance if less than 300 folk of all ages come to the 11 a.m. “People’s Service”!
Although, to be honest, it would not be my choice of worship and has little resemblance to the Church of England in style, they certainly “pull them in”, despite the sermon being rarely less than 45 minutes! I was bound to ask my son Denys, “What is the attraction?”
The music is mainly singing Choruses, supported by a Group (with very loud drummers), few, if any traditional hymns, and everyone is handed a coffee as they enter to take with them to their seats.
Yet it attracts a wide range of worshippers, professional people such as doctors, solicitors, executives and middle class together with life’s failures such as drug and alcohol addicts and all the social problems that seem to beset seaside towns with their variegated communities.
“That’s the answer”, Denys said. “People look around the town and note that within it is a community of Christians who are seeking to carry out Jesus’ commands; to heal the sick, feed the hungry, proclaiming the Gospel to the poor and disadvantaged, ministering to the elderly and young families alike. The young people are taught to assist with this work.
People see “The Gospel” in action through The Church as it seeks to make a positive difference to people’s lives”.
St. James (Jesus’ brother) in his forthright Epistle reminds us that “Faith without works is dead”! (James 1, v22-3, v1-end.
That is why, from the beginning, Christians sought to act in loving service to the sick and needy and were foremost in ministering to the outcasts of Society (with whom Jesus delighted to mingle and eat).
It is because of this that similar churches, mainly evangelistic in style are prominent in the list of communities that seek to fulfil these commands.
Note the impact that “The Church on the Roundabout” at Newport has on the people that pass it daily and its obviously welcoming exterior.
The truth is, outsiders could see us as self-centred. Too often The Church is pleading for help from the community in which it is set, but rarely asks that Community what we Christians can do for them. In every community, no matter how large or small, there are lonely, elderly people, hungry or financially poor families, people with problems of guilt, youngsters who are disillusioned and anxious for their future, driven to despair or self-harm.
“Do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices, God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13)
This has been the Church of England’s failure, where despite its privileged position as “The Established (Official) Church” in years past it has not always been very concerned with issues that affect people’s daily lives.
However, a cautionary note: whilst we should all desire to help those who need it, if we were to embark on a burst of philanthropy, simply that it might encourage people to join us for worship, it could echo Archbishop Thomas a Becket’s words in “Murder in the cathedral” (T. S. Eliot); “The last crime is the greater treason, to do the right thing for the wrong reason”.
If we seek to do good to others it must be for their own worth; it needs to be for love of people, conscious that they are all valuable to God, for whom His Son died.
We, all of us, need to be proud of our Anglican heritage, but we need to be more proud of humbly following the example of Jesus and the saints who put people’s welfare (physical and spiritual) at the heart of God’s message of love.